American history doesn’t go back too far, arguably about 400 years. And what’s a few hundred years compared to thousands in other parts of the world? But no matter how old, Americans love their history and take a lot of pride in preserving it. Such is the story of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, founded in 1607. Together with Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown, Jamestown forms the Historic Triangle, an arrangement of three colonial communities located in Virginia.
In 1607 three ships from England carrying around 100 men, the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery, landed in the Virginia Peninsula. The settlers picked a site and very soon after they came ashore they started building a fort to protect themselves against the local Indians. The construction was very basic, using indigenous trees stripped of branches and bark. The original fort had a triangular shape with circular watch towers. Today’s replica reveals just a small part of the original construction.
Despite their efforts to adapt to the harsh harsh conditions, the settlers found themselves unable to cope with the situation. The food they transported from England had spoiled, the water was unfit to drink so soon half of the colony population had perished from disease.
Excavations at the historic site revealed carcasses of dogs, cats and horses presumed to have been consumed during the “starving time” by the settlers. Even more, in recent years some human bones have been discovered that seem to tell a far more gruesome story: the cannibalization of a 14-year-old English girl. Captain John Smith, one of the colony leaders, tried to establish a trade with the Indian tribe Powhatan in the hope of procuring more food, but found himself captured by them. Smith was eventually released in part to the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas, who pleaded with her father to save the Captain’s life. Pocahontas later married a tobacco planter and eventually moved to England.
The archeological site also reveals remnants of the original Church at Jamestown, also called the Pocahontas Wedding Chapel. The present day church is a replica that was built in 1906 on the foundation of the original church and it is actually the fifth to be reconstructed so far. The previous churches have either been destroyed by fire, or fell into ruin.
At the Jamestown Settlement’s Pier you can see re-creations of three ships that brought English colonists to Virginia in 1607, the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery. You can explore the ships and find out about their voyage from England, or watch demonstrations of the 17th century navigation. Stepping aboard these ships is a very interesting experience. You can’t help asking yourself if you could have survived the miserable conditions below the decks, the smell of the unwashed bodies, the snores, the coughs, the swears and bickering, the fights? It was cold, damp and dark. Not a good place to be for 135 days.
Tickets for Jamestown are good for 7 consecutive days and include admission to Yorktown Battlefield. The cost is $14 for adults, while children 15 and under get in free.
Jamestown is a very small place with very few choices for food. We had lunch at Jamestown Settlement Café where they serve some sandwiches, soups and pizza, but the food is mediocre. However, if you are not quite starving, I’d suggest going back to Williamsburg where the food choices are far more numerous and much better. The driving is only 12-15 minutes.